I asked members of The Turquoise Iris’s Creative Connection what things they struggled with the most. While time management came in at number one, surprisingly close behind was “how to choose a color palette!” You’d think, as artists, we’d have an endless supply of color inspiration just living inside our heads but, after you’ve painted so many pieces, it can start to feel like you’ve done it all before. Sometimes that means staring at a blank canvas or piece of furniture and feeling like you don’t even know where to begin.
Whether you’re looking for some color palette inspiration or you just want to know what goes on inside my head when I’m picking out colors, then this post is for you.
How to Choose a Color Palette
There are a few steps that I go through in my process to choose a color palette that I think will be beneficial for any artist.
Step One: Purpose
The major determining factor when it comes to color choices is what you’ll be using it for. If you plan on painting a snowy forest you’ll be choosing far different colors than someone painting a flowery meadow or a coral reef. Planning your piece ahead of time, if only slightly, gives you a place to start that you don’t have if you’re just leaping into painting.
The same can be said for abstract work; what is your goal for the piece? Are you wanting to explore color relationships, textures, or mark-making? Analyzing your end goal for the piece will help you choose a color palette that lends itself to your vision.
Step Two: Warm or Cool?
From there, I look at my piece to determine whether I want the color palette to be warm or cool. This is especially important for anyone painting furniture where some of the original wood will be exposed — you want your colors to complement the wood, not compete against it.
To understand warm and cool tones, I have always urged my coaching clients to visit the makeup counter and look at their eyeshadow palettes. Many of them are grouped by cool and warm so seeing them already planned can help train your eye to recognize undertones.
If you’re still struggling with understanding undertones then pull out your color wheel and start to play with your paint. You’ll be able to identify warm vs. cool when swatching your paint next to each other.
Step Three: Complementary or Corresponding?
Get out your color wheel, because we’re about to get technical! First, there are a few terms you should know. Hue means what color something is, like yellow or red. Shade and tint refer to the addition of black or white, respectively, to that hue. Saturation is the strength or weakness of a color.
There are a few main color palettes to choose from:
- Monochromatic — different shades of the same hue
- Analogous — a main color plus the colors from either side of it on your color wheel
- Complementary — colors from opposite sides of the color wheel
- Triadic — three colors at equal distances on the color wheel
Once you choose a palette, you can play with shade, tint, and saturation within those boundaries to create a really dimensional palette.
Step Four: PLAY!
This is where you put the color wheel down, grab the colors you chose, and play with them on the canvas! The best way to learn how to choose a color palette is to understand how the colors actually interact! For those of you who take on custom projects, this will give you a deeper understanding of how to meet your clients’ needs and ensure that the final product is exactly what they’ve envisioned.
Examples for How to Choose a Color Palette
Let’s look at this color palette, the Bohemian Brights collection from DIY Paint (curated by me, The Turquoise Iris!) as an example.
When I was approached by the magnificent Debi Beard to choose some colors for her next collection, I had to take a moment and decide how I wanted to use this palette. As someone who paints mainly florals and abstracts, I knew I wanted lots of pinks. I also knew that I wanted this collection to be super-saturated warm pinks. You’ll notice that I went with a complementary palette as pinks/reds are opposite green and purple is opposite yellow on the color wheel. I also played with tint and saturation here; Unbridled Love and Wandering Heart both have a lot of white in them whereas Spirited and Adored Chaos are saturated with tons of pigment.
What do you think of the new Bohemian Brights?
I can’t wait to see what you create with these bright, bold colors that are so perfect for all your boho projects! Please tag me and DIY Paint when you use them!